Iran seeks a second political framework as historic nuclear talks stall

Officials call November 24 deadline "impossible"; Iran Navy "monitoring" foreign maneuvers after Israel renews threat of military action.

Kerry and Zarif at Vienna nuclear talks, Nov. 23 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Kerry and Zarif at Vienna nuclear talks, Nov. 23
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A nuclear deal by the stroke of midnight on November 25, the deadline on talks between world powers and Iran over its nuclear program, is now an impossible feat, Iranian diplomats said from Vienna on Sunday.
Instead, delegates at the nuclear talks are considering an extension of their efforts.
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif discussed adding more time in a private meeting on Monday, one senior US official said.
“Our focus remains on taking steps forward toward an agreement, but it is only natural that just over 24 hours from the deadline we are discussing a range of options both internally and with our P5+1 partners,” a senior State Department official said, referring to the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and Germany. “An extension is one of those options.”
And while a deal seems far from reach, all parties seemed to agree on the need to find a path forward “so that the road does not end here, but that the negotiating process can be continued,” Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said.
On the ground, Iranian diplomats were suggesting that a political agreement – solidifying gains thus far achieved throughout nearly a year of negotiations – would include an extension. But one source at the talks in Vienna told The Jerusalem Post that no such framework was in the works.
“Considering the short time left until the deadline and number of issues that needed to be discussed and resolved, it is impossible to reach a final and comprehensive deal by November 24,” Iran’s ISNA news agency quoted an unidentified member of the country’s negotiating team in Vienna as saying. A European diplomat, quoted by Western media, also used the term “impossible” as the clock wound down.
An extension beyond January 2015 would require the parties to renegotiate an interim deal implemented last January that granted them a maximum of 12 months to negotiate. An alternative is a smaller extension to the outer limit of that interim deal.
Either path would likely require further concessions on both sides: added caps on Iran’s enrichment of uranium agreed upon by Tehran, and the further easing of sanctions on Iran granted by world powers, possibly in the form of airplane shipments or the delivery of heavy oil-drilling equipment.
As top diplomats flooded the Austrian capital for the deadline, their public line seemed to be clear: World powers are far apart from Iran on several key issues, primarily on its massive uranium enrichment program.
Iranian state-run media reported increased surveillance of foreign military maneuvers by the Iranian Navy on Sunday, after a Post report detailed Israel’s reconsideration of the use of force against the Islamic Republic, should a bad deal come to pass in Vienna.
“The level of Iran’s military might remains ‘ambiguous’ to hostile countries,” Press TV reported, quoting an Iranian naval commander.
“Therefore, any aggression against the country entails ‘very dangerous risks’ for the enemies.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reinforced comments made in the Post article over the weekend, reiterating that Israel would always reserve the right to defend itself, by itself.
Israel will always reserve the right to defend itself against any threat with its own power,” he said in an interview on ABC’s This Week.
Netanyahu defined as a bad deal any agreement “that would allow Iran to remain with thousands of centrifuges which it could use to enrich uranium, which you need for a nuclear bomb, in a short period of time.”
The “key principle” is to not dismantle sanctions before Iran’s capacity to make a nuclear bomb is dismantled, the prime minister said.
“As I understand it, the Iranians are nowhere near accepting that. And if, for any reason, the United States and the other powers agree to leave Iran with that capacity to breakout, I think that would be a historic mistake,” he said.
Earlier in the day, at the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu repeated what he has been saying for months: that no nuclear deal with Iran is preferable to a bad one that will endanger Israel, the Middle East and the entire world.
Netanyahu said Israel was carefully following the negotiations in Vienna, and was in close contact with the representatives of the P5+1 negotiating with the Iranians.
He said that Kerry briefed him Saturday night on the talks.
Israel was making clear its position to the world powers that Iran must not be allowed to be recognized as a nuclear threshold power, the prime minister said.
“There is no reason that it [should] be allowed to keep thousands of centrifuges that will enable it to enrich uranium for a nuclear bomb in a short time,” he said.
Netanyahu added that there was also no reason that Tehran should be allowed to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles that can carry a nuclear payload and threaten the entire world.
He echoed these comments during the ABC interview, asking: “Why in heaven’s name does Iran need intercontinental ballistic missiles? They don’t need those missiles to reach Israel, they need [them] to reach Europe and the United States. And the only thing you carry on intercontinental ballistic missiles are nuclear warheads.
So I think the issue here is not merely Israel but everyone, the entire world. Everyone, the entire world, nearly all the regimes in the Middle East – with the exception of the Syrian regime – understand this is a great danger.”
Reuters contributed to this report.